Soccer: Van Persie keen to erase past ghosts

By Andy Cole

He is the centre-forward of a team that has reached the World Cup final. You might expect a striker in his position to be hoping a goal or two - or even a hat-trick - might be enough to bring him the Golden Boot.

But the truth is Robin van Persie has no chance of scooping that accolade. He has scored only a single goal in South Africa. So will he be losing sleep over it? I think not.

He'll be disappointed, but he is going to play in a World Cup final on Monday (NZ time) so van Persie won't be unhappy. If he gets the winner in Johannesburg, no one will care that he scored against Cameroon only in the games leading up to it, least of all him.

And besides, van Persie can still be said to have played a crucial part in the Dutch reaching the final.

As much as anything else, it was he who stepped around Wesley Sneijder's shot for their crucial second goal against Uruguay on Wednesday. Had he played the ball, he might have blocked it, diverted it wide, or been called offside. I think the flag should have gone up even though he did not touch the ball, as he was certainly interfering with play - just ask the Uruguayan goalkeeper.

It was another poor decision - and tough on Uruguay, as that goal was always likely to be decisive. At the time I thought La Celeste looked the more likely to score.

They had done well to get back into the game after Giovanni van Bronckhorst's spectacular opener and can count themselves unlucky not to be in their first final for 60 years.

Instead it is the Dutch who will be walking out at Soccer City. For many, that will bring back memories of their great sides of the 1970s that lost two finals.

There are also fond memories of the 1988 team which won the European Championship, with Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. It is fair to say Bert van Marwijk's team is not as talented - but they have got results.

The Netherlands is partying out of delight and relief at being given a shot of closure for the painful near-misses of the past.

"That is what is really nice with the game we all love: that we can make people so happy," said van Persie.

"It is difficult because you have to fight against the generation of 1974 and 1978. They were unbelievable. They were such great players and yet they did not do it, somehow, and we have a chance to do it. If we win it for the first time it will be unbelievable because it means we have done better than them.

"Cruyff, Neeskens, Jansen and so on are legends so it would be incredible. You grew up with their names in your face. When they say anything in the press or on TV everybody listens because of what those people have achieved."

But the striker's greatest idol isn't one of the exponents of total football. "As soon as I saw the video when I was a boy of Maradona lifting the trophy and crying I was hooked," van Persie said.

"I can't tell you how many times I have watched that clip. I have wanted to play in a final since I was a kid. Of course I have watched the two Dutch finals, too. I know our history in this competition.

"I have a really big picture of Maradona on the wall at home in my games room. It is of him holding the World Cup. He is on his teammates' shoulders and he is holding it with passion. If we win, I want a picture with me holding the World Cup and hopefully scoring in the final."

Van Marwijk's team have had some fortune. In the quarter-final they were lucky Brazil lost their heads for 20 minutes in the second half. The Dutch have stayed focused. It has not always been thrilling to watch.

The Dutch were also fortunate to play an under-strength Uruguay. Not that Luis Suarez did not deserve to be banned after his goal-line handball against Ghana. The referee sent him off and gave a penalty. The problem was Ghana missed. Suarez's celebrations left a nasty taste.

- INDEPENDENT

Your views

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 21 Aug 2014 02:54:15 Processing Time: 528ms